Railway Express Agency

The Railway Express Agency was a rail express service, and at one time, the only one in the United States. Originally the American Railway Express Company, its name was changed in 1929.

The Railway Express Agency came into being when the USRA, United States Railroad Administration (1917-1920), nationalized the express businesses of Adams Express Company, American Express Company, Southern Express Company (a subsidiary of Adams Express), and Wells Fargo and Company Express ("see History of Wells Fargo"; today's Wells Fargo bank was spun off in 1905) into the American Railway Express in 1917. Adams Express, American Express, and Wells Fargo Express each owned one-third of American Railway Express until they sold it to the railroads, who changed its name to Railway Express Agency.

The Railway Express Agency was the cargo company of choice in its days. The REA had an arrangement with the railroads that they moved the cars and provided terminal space at their expense. The REA paid its own expenses and divided the profit among the railroads in proportion to the traffic.

REA had to take everything including hazardous material and Class A, B & C explosives. It was saddled with a lot of undesirable traffic that truck lines would not handle, such as auto mufflers & tailpipes, ladders, rugs, etc. REA handled carloads of cattle, race horses, and trainloads of fruits and vegetables. Carloads of radioactive material were moved on regular schedules for the Atomic Energy Commission. There was practically nothing that was not handled at one time or another including circus animals. Many people of a certain age remember Railway Express as the best or even only practical means to move their trunks to college, bicycles to vacation homes, and other bulky items.Fact|date=April 2008

Due to rate increases, express revenues remained at profitable levels into the 1950s. However, after World War II, express volume decreased substantially. In 1959, REA negotiated a new contract allowing it to use any mode of transportation. It also acquired truck rights to allow continued service after passenger trains were discontinued. It unsuccessfully tried piggyback and container operations.

REA was sold to five of its officers and renamed REA Express in 1969, after several years of deficits. By then its entire business constituted less than 10% of all intercity parcel traffic and only 10% of its business moved by rail.

REA sued the railroads and the United Parcel Service for various reasons and became involved in suits and countersuits with the clerks' union, and the Civil Aeronautics Board terminated REA's exclusive agreement with the airlines for air express. REA Express terminated operations in November 1975 and began liquidation. This was complicated by trials of some of its officers for fraud and embezzlement.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 1975.


In October 1974 the inventors of the Altair microcomputer paid Railway Express Agency to ship their first prototype to the New York office of Popular Electronics. The shipment never arrived, and its fate is unknown to the inventors.Fact|date=May 2008


* The Historical Guide to North American Railroads,George Drury, ed. Kalmbach Publishing Co. 1985 edition
* [http://www.adamsexpress.com/content/pdf/adams_history.pdf The Adams Express Company: 150 Years] (corporate history largely devoted to its rail-express past)

External links

* [http://www.nrhs.com/archives/rea.htm NRHS Archives: Railway Express Agency]
* [http://www.northeast.railfan.net/rea.html North East Rails: Railway Express Agency]

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